The dorsolateral striatum (DLS) receives extensive projections from primary somatosensory cortex (SI), but very few studies have used somesthetic stimulation to characterize the sensory coding properties of DLS neurons. In this study, we used computer-controlled whisker deflections to characterize the extracellular responses of DLS neurons in rats lightly anesthetized with isoflurane. When multiple whiskers were synchronously deflected by rapid back-and-forth movements, whisker-sensitive neurons in the DLS responded to both directions of movement. The latency and magnitude of these neuronal responses displayed very little variation with changes in the rate (2, 5, or 8 Hz) of whisker stimulation. Simultaneous recordings in SI barrel cortex and the DLS revealed important distinctions in the neuronal responses of these serially connected brain regions. In contrast to DLS neurons, SI neurons were activated by the initial deflection of the whiskers but did not respond when the whiskers moved back to their original position. As the rate of whisker stimulation increased, SI responsiveness declined, and the latencies of the responses increased. In fact, when whiskers were deflected at 5 or 8 Hz, many neurons in the DLS responded before the SI neurons. These results and earlier anatomic findings suggest that a component of the sensory-induced response in the DLS is mediated by inputs from the thalamus. Furthermore, the lack of sensory adaptation in the DLS may represent a critical part of the neural mechanism by which the DLS encodes stimulus-response associations that trigger motor habits and other stimulus-evoked behaviors that are not contingent on rewarded outcomes.
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